Surfaces. Valentino Resort 2023

Valentino‘s resort 2023 collection was conceived as a precursor to the spring 2023 outing which we’ve seen about two weeks ago. Stripped of the stagecraft of the show, it was representative of Pierpaolo Piccioli’s line of thought, both conceptual and visual – and it honestly felt more convincing. “Fashion shows are there to solidify the narration around your values and your identity,” Piccioli said. “Resort is the moment when fashion speaks its own language. There’s no storytelling here, just work on construction, cut, silhouettes, color. It’s just moda, fashion, in its purest self. Of course, for me, clothes are always about how real people inhabit them.” For Piccioli, there’s no moda without humanity. He named the collection “Surfaces“, emphasizing the visuals of an all-over, head-to-toe silhouette where textures and shapes were turned into a sort of minimal continuum. While Piccioli has been toying around with minimalism for quite some time as a way to highlight the individuality of the wearer – “you reduce the excess on the garment to spotlight the attention on the face,” he said – it’s actually a concept rooted in Valentino Garavani’s 1960s aesthetics, when lines were pure, volumes were close to the body, and decoration was kept to a minimum. Fluidity was an element of sensuality that didn’t detract from the purity of design. Resort was in conversation with those style fundamentals. At the spring show Piccioli indulged in fluidity and movement enhanced by an abundance of sequined shine, but here he kept the silhouette neat, slim, and very short. Trim contours and head-to-toe maximalist surfaces were in evidence, for example, in a black macramé lace slip dress paired with matching thigh-high legging-boots, or in a mini shift dress encrusted with white lace, which somehow stretched into matching stocking-boots edged with leather. A day-evening ensemble, comprised of a dramatic long drawstring circle gown in amethyst faille, cinched with a marigold sash and worn with an oversize double-breasted blazer in cinnamon taffeta, was contrasted by a pristine white cotton shirt with macramé details. It highlighted not only the designer’s eye for color – no PPPink, thanks god – but also the cool spirit of versatility, the mixing of codes, and the couture flair that he’s persistently after. Punk or bourgeois, timeless or not, it definitely sparks joy.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Back To Basics. Valentino SS23

Knowing Pierpaolo Piccioli‘s skills and abilities of making fashion that sparks deep emotions, the designer could do much better for spring-summer 2023 than covering his silhouettes in Valentino‘s “V” logos. At least, there’s no sight of last season’s PPPink, which from a good-looking idea turned to a curse of street style. But the opening look, a caped dress in the palest of beiges that was graphically emblazoned with the house’s logo, just didn’t feel good. The marque was over absolutely everything, including the gloved bodysuit worn under the dress. It was even painted across the model’s face. Not everything went through logomania in this line-up, but in general this was one of Piccioli’s most uninspired collections in a long while. Piccioli focused his look on mostly flowing, undulating dresses, short or long, some scissored away at the waist (inspired by the slashed canvases of artist Lucio Fontana) and soft suiting that was androgynous with or without the feathery trims, in myriad shades of ivory, beige and brown, his celebration of the beauty of every skin tone. During the course of the show, he started to introduce bright saturated colors as a contrast – electric blue, acid green, emerald green – which looked at their most dazzling when deployed for the dream-it-and-we-can-make-it technical marvel of his pleated sequin pieces, such as a shrug it on coat, or a sweeping floor-length backless evening dress. But in overall, the offering felt rather flat and repetitive, noting that there were over 90 looks.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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The Beginning. Valentino AW22 Couture

Amada mia, amore mio! Ah! ah!

For Valentino’s spectacular autumn/winter 2022 haute couture show, creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli returned to Rome, where Valentino Garavani founded the storied maison back in 1959. Otherworldly bodies descending from the Spanish Steps in the golden evening sun, the romantic voice of Labrinth echoing from beneath the Trinità dei Monti… well, that was a scene. “I start from the finale, always,” Pierpaolo Piccioli said during a preview in Paris days before the show. “What I have in mind is these liquid, colourful drops coming down from the Steps, the volumes light and in movement.” He titled his show The Beginning: a return to the city where Valentino Garavani founded his maison, a place that has moved with the winds of change since the dawn of time. Like Piccioli’s Valentino, Rome’s codes may remain the same but its values are in eternal evolution. That was the sentiment behind a show he envisioned as “a conversation with Valentino” across the past, the present and the future. Piccioli had been dreaming of doing a show on the 18th-century steps. “It’s very personal. The last time Valentino did a show on the Spanish Steps was in the 1990s. It was a different moment in fashion. It was about lifestyle and the perfection of beauty, the glamour, the supermodels,” he reflected. “I wanted to get the spirit of Valentino – the joie de vivre – because I think it’s the only way of making beauty resilient to the time. On the other hand, there’s a picture I want to deliver, which is different from what it was 45 years ago. It’s the picture of what we live in. The Spanish Steps are the same, the atelier is the same, and in the end, clothes are clothes. I like to keep the rituals of haute couture. But the real difference is in the casting – in the humans – that can tell stories and witness a different moment in this world. I want to empower them and give them a voice and the opportunity to tell their own stories.

Piccioli’s approach to the show manifested in a collection that didn’t just poeticise the decades-long legacy of Valentino Garavani, but his own contributions to the house. Rather than pursuing newness, he reflected on what Valentino stands for after 14 years under his own artistic directorship (and 23 years as an employee). Unless you’d spent those years under a rock, you’d immediately recognise the resplendent volumes of his dresses, suits and coats, the hypnotising hues of his gem colours, and the drama of his plumed headpieces bouncing like jellyfish in the stream of the Roman evening breeze. “I wanted to do a reflection about how much of myself is in Valentino, and how much of Valentino is in my identity,” he said. “It’s everything I’ve already done but in a different place.” Piccioli’s era at Valentino has followed a time of political divide when the progressive values he fights for – the diversity, inclusivity and self-expression represented in his casting – are contrasted by a rise of reactionary ideas that has only become terrifyingly evident with recent American Supreme Court rulings. In that sense, moments like the Spanish Steps show – these grand gestures of beauty – are a kind of activism on his part. It may be wrapped in majestically coloured taffeta, three-dimensional geometric plumage painstakingly made to evoke Roman mosaics, or voluminous hand-sequined suits, but at the core of Piccioli’s haute couture is a dream that cuts deeper than mind-blowing craftsmanship. “I believe that it’s my responsibility as a fashion designer to bear witness to the times we’re living in,” he said. “I think that beauty has the power to break through, touch people and their conscience. Taking a radical posture through a strong narration and through images of a world that’s changing has an impact, and gives visibility to values that have to be protected. I believe fashion can be political.” With the likes of Naomi Campbell and Anne Hathaway on the front row the show was testament to the global impact of the new age of haute couture that Piccioli has spearheaded in recent years. But as illustrated by the people who joined them – Valentino’s co-founder Giancarlo Giammetti, Piccioli’s family, and their dog Miranda – it’s a success achieved through a grounded approach to the industry, to the mainstream fame he has gained, and everything that comes with it. At the heart of Piccioli’s progression-driven age of Valentino are a realness, friendliness and ease that remain his greatest assets.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

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Rejuvenating. Valentino Pre-Fall 2022

Keeping a consistent narrative is crucial for a brand’s credibility today; Gen Z customers, the demographic coveted by every luxury house, are drawn to designers whose work is creative and value-driven in equal measure. That dynamic isn’t lost on Pierpaolo Piccioli, who has rebooted Valentino for a new audience, amping up the brand’s cultural ethos to resonate with the zeitgeist. Pivoting on the label’s extraordinary couture heritage, Piccioli’s focus is to translate the codes of Italian savoir faire into an aesthetic that, while staying true to its high-style fundamentals, speaks to the attitudes of fashion’s younger consumers. This ongoing exercise somehow peaked, both visually and conceptually, in Piccioli’s spring collection last October, paraded in the streets of Paris with fashion students filling many of the seats. Models sported individual looks styled to suit their personality, further highlighting the intent to relate to the world of today. Picking up where that show left off, the words ‘real’ and ‘reality’ came up quite often in a conversation with the designer about pre-fall. Piccioli believes that the aesthetic codes of the maison can be given a different meaning by shifting the way they’re interpreted by the wearer. To that end, for pre-fall he worked on pieces quintessentially Valentino (so much so that some templates came directly from couture collections), but “shuffled the attitude,” as he said, and tweaked the styling to create a sort of dissonance and vitality.

Shot in the streets of London on young models, the lookbook images were conceived as a “portrait of a generation that wears clothes not necessarily different from those of 10, 20 years ago, but which are adapted to today’s lifestyle and our real social context,” said Piccioli. Case in point was the little black dress, a staple for cocktail receptions in a bourgeois milieu that Piccioli believes can be twisted into a sort of clubbing uniform. On the same note, an immaculate short white cape with matching pleated shirt that would’ve looked apropos on Marisa Berenson in the ‘70s if paired with high heels and a silk blouse, was given a cooler spin styled with a cropped marinière and chunky loafers. A sumptuous purple robe coat, lavishly embroidered with the Valentino atelier’s handcrafted couture techniques was turned into a citycoat and worn over a pair of distressed denim pants. The challenge Piccioli faces is to immerse into today’s complex reality a label whose imagery is rarefied and rooted in a world of privilege, twisting the references and techniques of couture to suit a modern way of dressing that favors personality instead of status. “I want to breathe life into Valentino,” he reiterated. “I want its idea of perfect beauty to be somehow stained, so to speak, by the reality of today’s life, and to make it alive and relevant for a community of people with no reverence towards fashion, but who inhabit fashion with sentiment and an attitude of personal creativity.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

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Think Pink. Valentino AW22

This season’s Valentino collection was entirely pink and black, which at first might sound like a banal thing to do. “I was fascinated by the idea of having this moment of reflection and digging deeper, Pierpaolo Piccioli said during a preview. Presented in a huge space painted to match the exact pink of the collection, his idea was to intensify the senses and make us look at the details of each garment – the silhouette, the neckline, the surface decoration – rather than focusing on “looks”. Ultimately, he said, he wanted the character of each model to stand out, rather than what their appearance represented. “I was reading a book about Fontana [the Italian artist and Spatialist], who used to cut up his work – not in order to destroy it but to build new opportunities; new dimensions,” the designer went on. “You know when you see a book of black and white portraits, after two or three pages you know it’s a black and white portrait book, so you don’t expect to see blonde hair and blue eyes? You go deeper into expressions: wrinkles… I wanted to get that feeling.” Once the eye adjusted to all that pink, the effect did work. You noticed the details of garments, and looked at the models’ faces. For Piccioli, whose work always revolves around the celebration of individuality and diversity, the monochromatism – which is, in essence, uniformity – was meant to draw the observer’s attention to the individual wearing the clothes. To underscore that point, he focused on necklines – what he called “Madonna meets the street” referring to the way the Holy Mother’s face was framed by Renaissance artists – and placed them on a cast including Penelope Tree and Kristen McMenamy. The collection continued Piccioli’s couture-ification of everyday codes, adapted for ready-to-wear. A t-shirt elongated into a draped minidress, a sporty jumpsuit morphed into a formalwear silhouette, and a generational cargo suit was imbued with a glamorous hourglass shape. Menswear dealt in the very oversized, from giant suits to puffer coats and highly embellished transparent evening tops, all of which will be sold in stores in just pink and black, the way it was presented, Piccioli vowed. By the way, this isn’t just a shade of pink. Piccioli’s particular shade of pink will be added to Pantone’s official colour scale under the name of “Pink PP” – a counterpart, perhaps, to Valentino Garavani’s “Valentino Red”. And while he never wears pink himself, Piccoli explained it’s an ongoing fascination. “I always want pink in my collections. It’s a colour I feel you can subvert better, because it already has a lot of meaning. It changed during the centuries: it was the colour of the power of men, then it became girlish… I like to subvert the idea. Today, it means different things.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

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